How about a Bike Trip in Your Retirement?

Category: Adventurous retirement

August 17, 2011 — If exploring charming villages or savoring the beautiful countryside appeals to you, one of the best ways to experience these pleasures is… on a bike. Your Topretirements editor and wife Roberta are just back from a wonderful biking trip along the Danube in Hungary and Slovakia. Although there a quite a few choices in biking tours, including a self-tour, we chose VBT for ours. Some other choices include the more expensive Butterfield and Robinson, Euro-bike, and Backroads.

Whether you are retired already or just thinking about it, bike trips or other active tours are a great way to explore new territory and relax. This short article will give you an idea of what the experience is like in case you are considering one. For those to whom cycling seems a bit too adventurous, there are also walking tours, wine and food tasting tours, and barge tours. For those who crave more excitement there are options like kayaking, fishing, backpacking, and float trips.
Exploring Budapest by bike
The beauty of using a tour company vs. a self-guided tour is that the former tend to eliminate the hassle factor. You’ll pay more, but you’ll experience a long list of joys that make traveling so much easier. Those start with being met at the airport and being driven to the starting hotel, all the way to your pre-arranged (and pre-paid) ride back to the airport. When you change hotels you just put your luggage outside your room – the next time you see it will be in your new hotel room! On the road you’ll enjoy a bike that is almost certainly nicer than the one you have at home. A van will meet you on the road and offer snacks, directions, mechanical assistance – even a lift to the hotel if you’re too tired to pedal any further. On our trip we had two wonderful Hungarian guides. From the orientation and safety briefing to the farewell “Awards” dinner, Suzy and Zoltan were genuinely friendly, helpful, and dedicated to making every aspect of our trip a fun success.

How Were the Accommodations
Our accommodations ranged from 3 to 5 stars, though in all cases were the best the towns had to offer. Our initial hotel, the Arcadia, is the only 5 star hotel in Bratislava; our second lodging was in a beautifully restored castle. About half of the lunches and dinners were included; our guides provided ample recommendations for those that weren’t. Although we didn’t go in with high expectations for the food, most was pretty good. Some meals were very good, including a particularly memorable dinner in a beautiful outdoor courtyard in Esztergom.

A typical day might go like this. Breakfast (included) at 7:30, followed by Zoltan going over the day’s itinerary with special attention to the tricky parts of the day’s ride. Bike out of the hotel to a river boat for an hour’s journey down the Danube with our bikes on board. Disembark for a bike ride on paths beside the river. Catch a short ferry ride to a giant island in the river. Enjoy a splendid lunch followed by an excellent private show featuring the Chico riding skills of Hungarian cowboys. Then bike along roads and bike paths to our new hotel alongside the beautiful Danube. Then a shower and nap followed by dinner. A typical day’s ride ranged from about 35 – 60 kilometers (20-40 miles), depending on whether one chose the short or long option. Each day’s ride was different- on some we explored one or two of the charming towns

on our route, while on other days there would be an entertainment or local cultural event to break up the ride, like the day we all made a sour cherry strudel at a horse farm. The scenery was always changing – it ranged from huge fields of sunflowers and corn, to forests, to pastoral villages, to the huge expanse of the Danube River. About half of each day’s ride was on bike paths; luckily there were very few busy roads.

The Danube and Budapest


Who goes on these trips?
Our guides thought that our group was a bit younger than usual. That said, the youngest couple was in their late 40’s and the oldest person in their early 70’s. At 63 your editor was at the median age. Five of the cyclists were very experienced with multiple tours under their belts and in great condition. No one was out of shape. Our fellow tourers came from all parts of the USA.

Here was our itinerary on the Danube trip
Bratislava (capital of Slovakia)
Mosonmagyaróvár (This pedestrian town is the dental tourism destination for Austrians! We also spent the afternoon at a giant thermal spa)
Gyor /Esztergom

Esztergom

The view from Basilica at Esztergom

(Baroque town with huge pedestrian-only center/former capital of Hungary)
Vac and Szentendre Island (Another beautiful Baroque town, the horse show was on the island)
Skanzen/Szentendre (A huge historical park/artist’s town)
Budapest (Baroque city on the Danube, the Paris of Eastern Europe)

If you go a trip like this:
– Encourage some friends to go with you. It is not essential, but if bring enough you all might get a discount.
– Go on a few training rides – if you are in reasonable shape you’ll have a better time. The trips are rated according to their difficulty and the company provides recommendations for how to prepare for them. FOLLOW THEM!
– Consider taking the pre-and post-extensions. You’ll get more time to explore nearby towns – we wish we had spent more time in Budapest or started from Berlin. These additions are very reasonably priced.

Pluses:
– A great way to see new places.
– Bikes are fast enough to travel between towns but slow enough to savor the sights
– Meet new people, have a blast
– Good food and lodging
– Almost hassle-free travel

Minuses:
– Can be costly (although the tour companies might get you discounts on airfare and hotels you couldn’t get)
– You always run the risk of encountering a disagreeable travel companion (this didn’t happen to us)
– Roberta felt the trip was a bit strenuous and wished we were in a slightly slower group. Some groups are faster than others (our was reportedly fast),but the guide goes at the end of the queue
– Reported weight gain on these trips is 4 pounds – go easy on the snacks!

Resources:
There are a number of companies offering biking and walking tours, including:
There are a number of companies offering biking and walking tours, including:
VBT
Butterfield (a high end company)
Backroads
Euro-bike
Here’s a good website with lots of reviews about biking and hiking companies:
More about Adventurous Retirements
Tips and Picks “Adventurous Retirements

Comments? Have you gone on a trip in your retirement that was fun? What did you like about it? Would you recommend it to others?

Posted by John Brady on August 17th, 2011

4 Comments »

  1. This is going to be fun. And it’s good a way for practicing. Thank you so much for sharing this.

    by Janett Brown — August 18, 2011

  2. Thank you so much for beginning this thread. I hope MANY will join in with experiences … for the selfish reason that this is one of our hoped for retirement “splurges.” We have biked for 3 years now and love it (h/63, w/54). I am not including time as teenagers when we both biked a lot (many of us did … seems few teens do now!), nor several years spent trying to put up with the neck, shoulder and back aches from cheap mountain bikes. We now use “comfort bikes” … sit more erect, pedals a little forward, handlebars higher (no leaning over!) … tried recumbents and loved them but MUCH more expensive (anyone ride Day6 Bicycles? they seem a great hybrid/compromise between comfort bike and recumbent). We also are flatlanders (no hills if we can help it) … mostly rails-to-trails in the east (so far, New York State to Florida) and some in MO & IN. I have looked at some of the companies and even one (forget name) that one stays on barges (as the accomodations) and bike in the towns and areas you visit (you can also do this on the Erie Canal in New York State). All sounds fantastic!!! We just hope that: 1) our health hold out, 2) we can EVER afford to retire completely … of course some would (rightly) say that one can never afford NOT to do these things … to just find a way … well, we’re trying. If you have succeeded, let us all know what you saw as good/bad. Otherwise, maybe we’ll cross paths on the Great Allegheny Passage or some other tails. Best wishes to all in life’s journey.

    by The Mad Monk — August 18, 2011

  3. I was one of the friends & family that went along on this fun trip w/ vbt & agree completely that biking is a great way to see the world.I also recommend the extensions. they are surprizingly lowcost opportunities to explore the departure & arrival cities a bit more. the much discussed weight gain didnt materialize for me & my husband,thank god!

    by Mary Ellen jensen — August 18, 2011

  4. […] Our sister website, Topretirements.com,  just ran an interesting article about bike trips as a way to see new parts of the world. You should check it out because it references some of the major tour companies, how to prepare, what the trips are like, pros and cons.  How  About A Bike Trip […]

    by » Is a Bike Trip in Your Future? Best towns and lifestyles blog — August 18, 2011

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